Sunday, June 14, 2015

Grace the Terrible

I've been known to be impulsive, and back in 1994, while in college, while living in University Housing, I decided I wanted a kitten.  I figured if my RA could could get away with having a beagle, I could hide a kitten.

So, my roommate, Rachelle, and I went and picked out a little black furball, without the blessing of any of our parents, because hey, we were ADULTS.

We came home with Grace (so named for Mark Grace, of Chicago Cubs fame, and my dear friend, Amber Grace) and that little black kitten promptly stole my heart.

Grace 3

When I brought her home, I called my mom with the great news.  Mom wasn't as excited as I thought she should be.  Her first question was, "What are you going to do with her for the summer."  Whoops.  Hadn't thought about that.  But my parents were gracious and I took her home for the summer.  And she was a giant pain in the arse.  She yowled every morning as soon as the sun came up.  My bedroom faced east.  It was tragic for me, as I am not a morning person.  I threw things at her.  I yelled at her.  She kept yowling.  My mom said, "If you can't deal with this cat, how are you ever going to deal with kids?"  I threatened to kill her more quietly after that.

We survived that first summer and when I moved back to Millikin, the new RA wasn't quite the rebel the previous one had been and I couldn't chance having her in my apartment.  I had two friends who had a house and multiple cats and they graciously kept Grace for me for a whole school year. I'd go get her and take her with me to visit Jason in Champaign.  She was like a queen riding on the clean laundry.

Grace 4

My senior year, Rachelle and I were able to move into the house and Grace and I got to be together for an entire school year.  I fell asleep every night with her curled up on my chest (and then she'd sneak up and suck on my earlobes.  Totally weird, and she'd do it to anyone she was snuggled with.  You had to protect your earlobes around Grace.)

My favorite Grace story ever was my senior year, living in that old house that probably should have been condemned.  I was doing my homework in my room and I looked up to see Grace stalking a bird that was flying around my room.  Then my brain processed the fact that those weren't bird wings, but bat wings and I involuntarily shuddered as I watched her nimbly leap about 4 feet in the air and snatch that bat right out of midair.  Then she came trotting over to me with the bat, a wing hanging out of each side of her mouth, pleased at punch.  Obviously, I was hidden under my comforter, terrified, but I made her drop it and I went screaming down the stairs for help from my roommates.  We never did find that bat, or see it again.

That same summer, Jason and I got married.  As we were driving back and forth from the suburbs, looking for apartments and jobs, she was lonely, so she lived with my parents and their two cats.  After our honeymoon, we went to mom and dad's to get her and she actually hid from me.  She crawled under the couch and refused to come out.  My mom felt sorry for her and suggested that she just stay with them because she'd gotten used to being with their two cats, Bart and Poupon.  And from that moment on, Grace belonged to my mom.  (If you ask my dad, he'll tell you an entirely different story, but the point is that she ended up with my mom and dad.)  She was my mom's cat for nearly 19 years, until she passed away this morning at the ripe old age of 21 years and three months.

RIP, Grace the Terrible.  May there be lots of cheese in kitty heaven.  As my sister said, "Whoever was ruling in Kitty Heaven just got dethroned."

Grace 2

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

I hate gym lighting/A photo recipe

My daughter is now playing junior high volleyball.  I have spent four summers capturing softball and baseball and I pretty much have that under control.  I know where to sit and how to handle the bright sunlight and when to click.
Volleyball is another beast entirely.  The action is so much faster, the gym is so much more compact and the lighting is just terrible.  Awful.  Pardon my French, but it sucks, especially in a building that was built in the 1930's.
I have a photographer friend whose daughter also plays volleyball and her photos are so much brighter than mine.  Part of that is her better camera (I can't do anything about that right now) and part of it is light.  So I started thinking about whether or not I could fake the light.
Here's what I started with.  My daughter is a setter.  This was their 4th match of the season and I finally got a decent photo of her waiting for the ball.

I have learned that it is better to shoot wide and then crop...I have a better chance of getting the ball in the frame, especially since I am a newbie.  So I cropped it to make it look like I am really good.  ;)

First I did a little levels adjustment to brighten it up and then I looked at color.  Between the fluorescent lights and the yellow floor, there are all sorts of awful colors going on here.  I thought that white wall looked rather blue, so I toned down the blues a bit.  I eyeball all of this.

Finally I really wanted my daughter to stand out.  I went to the Love that Shot Olde World  Collection Textures (my favorites) to look for one that would really brighten things.  I chose one called "La Rochelle" and applied it at 50% in overlay mode.

Is it perfect?  No?  Do I love it?  Yes.  The texture brightens my daughter and creates a slight vignette.  You can still tell that it's a photo taken in a crummy gym, but it looks less like a snapshot and that makes me happy.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Why I send Christmas Cards

After reading a blog today explaining why the blogger was not sending Christmas Cards, I felt very defensive about the fact that I do send them.  Then the blogger asked for one reason why I am sending cards.  Here's a list:

  • I send them every year. I send a letter.  I suppose that I am one of those annoying people who irritates the crap out of everyone.  I do try very hard not to make my letter vomit-inducing, but I am probably deluding myself.
  • I send cards because I enjoy it.  I enjoy it much more now that I quit hand-making my cards (whose crazy idea was that, anyway?)  I enjoy the act of addressing the envelopes and signing the cards and spending a moment thinking about that recipient and sending them glad tidings from my heart.
  • I send cards because I love receiving cards.  One of my favorite things this time of year is heading out to the mailbox and settling in and savoring those cards and photos and letters.  Yes, I even love the letters.
  • I send cards because I have elderly family scattered all over the US who are not on Facebook.  I want them to know that I am thinking of them.  
  • I send cards because I think that good, old-fashioned communication is a lost art form.
  • Also, I love addressing the envelopes.  Weird, huh?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Fall in the Midwest: crisp mornings and beautiful trees.  Years ago, we had to take down our poor old oak tree, and all that we have left is a massive white pine that had been planted by the previous owner.  Blah.  Pine needles are not full of fall glory!
After 15 years, I have finally started to pay attention to the cycles of my pine tree.  Every year it loses some, but not all, of its needles.  And some years it produces a few pine cones, some years it seems there are none at all.  
This year is going to be an exception.  The top branches are struggling under the weight of  all of those pine cones.  Only a few pine cones have made their way to the ground so far.  There will be many many more where this came from.  Let me know if you need any.  ;)
I went out in the evening to take photos of the pine cone.  The first thing that I did was purposely underexpose the image, by two full stops.  I wanted the photo to look like reality, not how the camera thought it should look.

I love a lot of bokeh, so this was shot at f/2.0, 1/20, ISO 400, 35 mm.  In an ideal world, I would have increased the ISO for a faster shutter speed, but this was shot with my old camera and I don't like to push it.

I transferred the photo to my computer and took a look.  I was pretty happy with it, but in the digital age, there's no such thing as leaving well enough alone, so I started editing.

The first thing that I did was a slight levels adjustment.  I made the photo just a little darker to reflect the actual light.  And then, because I had missed the warmth of the sunset, I tried to add some warmth with one of Love that Shot's glows:  "Golden Glow Top." I applied it in soft light mode at 50%.

Next I wanted to try out a little texture.  "Fire" from the Simplicity Collection is my go-to, so I made myself try something different.  I chose " Woodsman" from the Fairytale Collection.  I applied it in Soft Light mode at 50% and then added a layer mask to remove just a little of the texture from the pine cone.  I used a soft brush at 50% to wipe away just a little texture.

It's so much fun to play.  You can check out Love that Shot's Photo Veils and Textures here

Monday, June 23, 2014

Photo Recipe: Salvaging a crummy shot

Last Saturday I got up bright and early (for me) to cheer on a friend who was completing her first triathlon.  We drove out along some back country roads and parked and waited for her to come by on her bike.  We nearly missed her the first time and then had some time to kill before she came back by on the return trip.  The girls were a little bored, so they hopped in the back of another parent's truck to wait.  I looked at them sitting there and thought it would make a great photo of rural America.  I tried to snap a couple before they saw me (I prefer natural photos to those with typical tween girls poses) but I failed.
In fact, when I got home and looked at the photo, I pretty much hated it.
But I wanted to love it.  I really really wanted it to look like I had it in my head.  But it was kind of awful.  Rather than just deleting it, I decided to play around.

After looking at it a little more, and realizing that it would have been 1000 times better if all four girls had been looking off into the distance, I decided to treat it like an old-fashioned photo.  You know those ones where no one is really looking at the camera, someone is grouchy, but it was all people had back in the day because film was expensive and photos were rare?
So, I converted it to black and white using a layer.  I played around with the different options and chose "High Contrast Red."  And then I decided I wanted a hint of color, so I set that layer at 75% opacity.

I liked the way it no longer looked like a bunch of girls squinting in the early morning sunlight, but I wanted to make it look grainy and old and well-worn, so I chose Calais from Love That Shot's Old World Collection.  I added it at 75% opacity in overlay mode.

And because I am never satisfied and like big changes, I added one more layer for more oldness (is that a word?) and drama.  I chose Sicily and added it at 45% opacity in linear burn mode.

It's not perfect, but I like how the sky looks moody, just like my daughter's face.  If I edited it again, I might go ahead and remove all color from the photo.  But that's the fun of digital photography, isn't it?  You can just play and play.

If you have any thoughts, I'd love to hear them.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Unsolicited Advice

My kids wanted to run to the mall today.  It's summer vacation.  I "need" some new Bath and Body Works foaming hand soaps (that lavender scent is uh-mazing.)  I'd rather drive around and wander through stores than stay home, fight technology and do laundry.  I was in.
We had lunch at Avanti's and then wandered over to the mall to do our shopping.
On our way out, I wanted to look at dresses at Penney's.  I have this sudden strange love for dresses.  I found one that was a coral and hot pink pattern.  I held it up to show the kids to get their opinion.
KJ said, "I like it mom.  It looks like you."  (Translation: Please buy it so we can leave.)
Boo said nothing. Instead I got a shoulder shrug and eyeroll. (Translation: You have already pushed me past my limit.  Take me home NOW.)
Old Lady I've never met before, "Do you want my opinion?"
I answered gamely, "Sure."
She replied, "I don't like it."
"You don't like the pattern?"
I rambled on something about modern colors and patterns then turned away and she added, "You sure won't be wearing that if you get a sunburn."
I smiled and commented about needing some sun to balance out the farmer's tan I have going from sitting at the kids' ball games.  She responded with some comment about how she doesn't sit out in the sun anymore because her doctor got all upset about it.
I turned away and she still felt the need to drive home the point that she didn't like that dress on me.  She looked at the 2Ks and said, "Don't you think that she is too red to wear that dress?" They looked at me because they had no idea how to handle this one.
And because that wasn't enough, she told me to hold it up and go look in the mirror and I would see how I was too red to wear it.
At that point in time, I hung it back up and walked away.
And she said, "Oh dear, I made you change your mind.  I'm sorry."
Unsolicited opinions about my clothing choices, or my eyebrows make me all paranoid.
Maybe I should have invited her back here to go through my closet.
Then again, maybe not.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Photo Recipe: Faking the Golden Hour

You've heard of it, The Golden Hour, that magical time of day just before sunset when the light is warm and bathes your subject in the most flattering light.  Perhaps you've even had the skill, or luck, to capture it beautifully.  I've been lucky once or twice.  My very favorite golden hour photo is actually of my daughter, in the softball dugout, with a giant welt on her shoulder after she wore a pitch.  Is it wrong that I love it?
Two weeks ago, my son had his first baseball game of the season and it was beautiful (a bit windy, but hey, it wasn't snowing.) As the sun set, and I realized there were no artificial lights, I was giddy about the quality of the light.  By the way, I am fairly certain the other parents think that I might just be certifiably insane, but whatever.
I got home and looked at the photos and was kind of disappointed.  They weren't nearly as golden as I had hoped they would be.  (Um, it would probably have helped if *some* people didn't leave their white balance on auto all of the time, but it was too late to deal with that issue.)
I was disappointed until I remembered my most favorite Love that Shot photo veil ever.  It's called "Fire" and it's found in the Simplicity Collection.  I pulled it up and added it to my two favorite shots of my son from the game and I fell in love.

Here are the before and after of my son at bat:

And one of my son after he caught a fly ball (the center fielder is ducking down so as to not take a baseball to the face.)

Isn't it amazing how that single, simple veil changed the photos?  They now look like they had looked in my head.  And the slight vignette does a great job of placing the focus on KJ.

I first fell in love with Fire back in the fall when editing some senior photos.  It was another case of the photos not matching what I had remembered.  They just weren't as warm as they had been in my head.  I added a little fire (and some other senior-type edits) and voila!

So, to test my theory that Fire is amazing and can give photos that nice, warm glow, I tried it on a photo that I took of my daughter's softball team at about 11:00 am.  No warm glow from the sun at that time of day.

Here's what I started with:

Then I added the Fire veil from the Simplicity collection, in Overlay mode at 50% and here's what I got:

The shadows give it away that this was not taken at sunset, but I love how warm it makes the photo.  I may just start putting it on every photo I take. ;)

P.S.  I tested it again today on my daffodil.  I still love it.